Friday, December 18, 2020

An Unlikely Warrior - Wild Boar in the Hood

--today we have a guest author and illustrator - Tom Vieth

Susan wrote a blog about getting lost in the woods.

I finally figured out why it is so easy to get lost in our local forest. It has to do with animal tracks and thorn bushes.  The forest is chock-a-bloc full of quadrupeds. There are  two species of deer— small ones with little prong horns and big ones that, oddly, bark with a sound like a dog with a bone stuck in his throat.  The forest is home to foxes, weasels, and badgers.  But there is an undisputed king of this jungle:  the sanglier, the wild boar.

Sanglier are all muscle. They weigh the same as a St. Bernard, but are much more dense. To eat wild boar meat you have to cook it for TWO DAYS.

These animals have created a vast network of well-worn paths.  Many of the paths seem like an  inviting, believable human trail. Go ahead, you tell yourself, it's a fine path. Until you hit a patch of thorn bush. Welcome to the gates of hell.

The thorn bushes aren’t really shrubs. They are wild blackberry vines, brandishing uncountable three meter-long branches that create, for humans, a horrifying mass of pain and suffering.

Once a vine has you,  you turn.  Turning causes the vine to spool you into other vines  The more you struggle the more deadly becomes the embrace. You are hit by a tsunami of panic that obliterates reason and any sense of direction.  You will do anything, move in any direction, to get untangled. Finally you are free!  And now, completely disoriented, you are lost.

An Unlikely Warrior

Every December the usual pattern of cold and rainy, rainy and cold is broken by a couple of days of improbable sunshine and mild temperatures. On the train route to Blahsville,  someone put in a hidden magical stop.

Susan, our neighbor, Marte, our deaf Cavalier King Charles, Daisy, and our ridiculously cute Cavalier/Chihuahua, Little Bit, had just entered the forest for a Sunday afternoon walk.  The dogs were off-leash. Susan was wearing an orange vest because hunters hunt on Sunday. 

The wooded valley we were in is deep and steep.  The path is cut into the sidewall, with a bunch of space going down through the brambles and trees below us and another rise of brambles and trees towering above us. We were moving along the path, fragments of  conversation tossed out to the rhythm of our footsteps. 

Suddenly we heard Little Bit cry out.  She was across the narrow valley.  The call she let out was not from a cute little half-breed.  It was a chilling siren wail.  Something was wrong.  We stopped to listen.  Gradually we heard the sound of twigs crackling and wood snapping.  It is the same sound you hear from a bonfire, louder than you would expect, it is an angry noise from an amassing of thousands of bits of destruction.  But there was no smoke. Then we saw the beasts.  Susan yelled, “Get behind a tree!” Four sanglier were pushing through the brambles below us. We know that in a disaster time seems to slow down. It seemed we were experiencing that when the snorting, thrashing beasts were coming upon us.  In fact it was like a movie in slow motion.  Parallel to our path, the panicked sanglier were off the track and running straight through the brambles.  The wild boars, a total of 800 pounds of brute strength, were surging through the thick mass of thorns like they were pushing against a wall of flood-borne debris.

Just as they got even with us, the wild boars turned to cross our path, searching for escape on the slope above. Three sanglier cut between us and Marte.  Marte was perhaps three meters from us.  From where we stood the beasts were nearly close enough to be in the pee-in-your-pants zone. As the last beast blasted by we saw what had spooked the wild boars. Yapping hysterically, Little Bit was on their heals and heading after them up the side of our valley! All I could think about were the scars I’ve seen on dogs that hunt sanglier.  And those were all big dogs without a trace of Chihuahua in their bloodlines.

Hoping to stop this madness, we were screaming and blowing the whistle.  Our cries were joined by the barking of a pack of hunt dogs. Over this was the noise of the hunters’ horns trying to call back their dogs. I headed up the slope after Little Bit.  A large deer bounded past me heading down hill.  I could hear the cacophony of barking dogs, indiscernible French from Susan and the equally indiscernible French of the hunters speaking in the local dialect. But no Little Bit.

A very crazy Daisy trying to launch herself after the sanglier.

This isn’t a movie, so the drama passed and everything eventually got straightened out.  The hunters gathered their dogs and moved on.  Marte and Susan were wearing down the adrenaline jolt by talking through what had just happened. From a direction in which I was not heading Little Bit returned, safe but completely bonkers with the excitement of her chase. 

As we settled down we began to think about how long it took the wild boars to push their way through the brambles.  It was long enough for me to catch Daisy, leash her and yank her out of harms way. It was Long enough for Susan to shout get behind a tree several times in English and then, remembering Marte, several times in French.  As it turns out it was not quite long enough for Marte to find a living tree.  The tree she first went to wouldn’t stop a sanglier because this tree was dead.

In the bear populated American West, forest rangers tell you that the best way to survive a charging bear is curl into a ball and take the first swipe.  If, through the ensuing great pain you can play dead, the bear might move on.  I asked Susan if her poise in shouting out “Get behind a tree!”  was what she had been told is the standard wild boar version of “Curl and take one!”  She said no, in the moment of chaos, it just came to her.  She’d be good in tornados, too.

We turned around and finished our walk by passing through the village and up along the ridge that runs through thousands of acres of wide open, sanglier-free farmland.

Last week I listed a few Blogs I go to to escape or to dream - how could I forget Corey Amaro's adventures into the brocante world and her beautiful, dreamy images of France. French la Vie

and here is our WARRIOR at peace

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Garden Misfits

What are two obsessed Sunday Morning Antique Fair shoppers supposed to do when they run out of room for any other thing? Every nook and cranny of the house is filled and all the spaces in the garden with more than 2 inches of soil are fully planted. Our obsessive “antique” shopping is funny because we never go shopping together for anything else. If the antiques would just stay in the antique shops we’d be fine. But no, we are lured out to the antique fairs rain or shine, cold or heat, lured to see what treasure might reveal itself and loosen our purse strings. You could tell us it would be more sensible to stay home, to show some restraint, but that is prudent advice. Being prudent is a rational thing. Craziness is irrational. We know full well that we’ll see all the sad bits and bobs that the antique dealers have been lugging in and out of their sad vans for months, possibly years. Before any junk arrives here in the hinterlands, the cream of the crop has been skimmed off, the better bits sold off, and we will be shopping through the dregs.

But there could be wonders hidden in the dregs! It’s easy to nose out treasures when you are the kind of people that every year buy the scraggly Charlie Brown Christmas tree that no one else seems to want.

Because our house is crammed full and the flower beds are overflowing we have narrowed our treasure hunting down to stuff that can be used in some way or another outside. Most of the stuff wasn’t intended to be placed in a garden.  All of it seems to be very heavy: a seven-foot long carved stone lintel from 1704, two 12-foot oak doors with cast iron grills, cast iron fire place backs, zinc trim from the 1800’s, two iron windows with stained glass.   Even the things meant for the garden are heavy:  cast-stone pots, carved stone well-heads (think precursor to the cute wooden wishing wells for lawn decoration.) 

Once we have spotted our object of desire the trick is to stand there in the middle of the junky, bustling antiques fair and try to conjure up some creative way to incorporate the thing into the garden landscape. Our imaginations have to slide around the treasure’s original purpose. Surely there is a way to give new joy to this misfit. (Our treasures are always a little dented, chipped, or weary from the years.) Most of the time one of us can cook up some fanciful proposal. Sometimes we just say what the heck, we’ll figure it out once we get the dang thing home.

The whole time we are cooking up our idea we have to be sure not to look too interested or too enthusiastic in front of the seller. Our next step is to ask the price. We hold our breath. We either let out a gasp and walk on, or we look sideways at each other and convey the signal “yes”, or “let’s haggle”, or “let’s think about it”. 

How are we able to afford these treasures for our ‘garden of divergent purposing’? Here are three examples of how flea market misfits came to our gardens:

At one Sunday morning antique fair we spotted two stained glass windows We thought they were magnificent. Our imaginations started feeling around for just where in the garden these two crazy things could be put to use. They were regal windows, but not too fancy to be abused in a creative sort of way. To our surprise the price was right. The young man selling them was sick and tired of cautiously loading them in and out of his truck. Tired of living with the anxiety of shattering them every time he hauled them to another antiques fair where people just walked by saying “oh those are beautiful, but I don’t live in a chateau. Mighty drafty. Mighty heavy. Mighty shabby.” The deal was made, we went home to get the trailer, the young man joyously helped cradle the windows into the trailer, and then we anxiously and cautiously drove very slowly home.

There are the three concrete captains chairs we lugged home form Bordeaux. Actually we had to make a second trip for those because we had deliberately left the trailer at home in order to restrain our imaginations to only things that would fit in the back of our car, but… (what did I say about prudence?) Who could have imagined that we’d find things so big, so heavy, so ugly, and that we just had to add to our oddball garden decor? We asked the price. We held our breath. The vendor was from some place hours away and really did not want to return home with all that weight. It was the first day of a two-week fair and he figured a bird in hand was better than wondering if any other suckers would come along. He gave us a great deal on the condition that we were responsible for getting them out of there. He would lift them -one more time -into someone else's trailer, but that was it. Good riddance and drive carefully.

Another Sunday we walked up to the antique fair right here in Bourdeilles. The mile walk home would keep us from buying anything. We were ambling among the sad stuff when suddenly Tom said, “that was interesting.” “Hmm” I said, “did you see that weathervane?” That was it - the object of our desire. It’s a weather vane, the indicator doesn’t turn, there is no N for north and the E is missing it’s bottom half. There are blobs of metal here and there where someone has tried to hold everything together with poorly done welding. We ask the price. “What you see is what you get and you have to get it out of here.” You could see the astonishment on the sellers face when we did not haggle with his reasonable asking price. Tom grabbed the top half, I grabbed the bottom half, and off we carefully paraded down the main street and over the river to see where this zinc weather vane version of a Charlie Brown Christmas tree would fit into the garden landscape.

There are oh so many more objects of desire sprinkled in the corners of the not yet filled up yard, but you’ll just have to come visit to see them. It’s an obsessive garden but not a secret garden.

Finally one that was too big even for the trailer - there were two of them. Imagine them in a small village in france. Tom was tempted.

Follow our adventures on Instagram-

Since we are still on strict travel restrictions, and no Sunday Antique Fairs, here are some places I go for a vicarious adventure:

Southern Fried French "So, we've been doing a lot of walking around Beaune, and one of my favorite pastimes is to take a closer look at all the architectural details of this charming historic city. And what has caught my eye this week is another sort of confinement tool: the garde corps. 

My French Country Home "When it comes to a recipe repertoire, it’s very easy to fall into a rut, using the same recipes over and over because we know they work.   Which is why I am always on the look out for new ideas.     In our magazine My French Country Home, we always include recipes for French dishes.  And in the current issue we turned to cookbook writer Kate Hill.  Kate lives in South West France, in a beautiful country home.   As well as writing her books, she also offers cooking courses, and now I’ve tried out her recipes, I’m thinking I should go!"

The Good Life France It’s a little gloomy here in France to be honest but you probably all know this already so I won’t dwell on that but on the joyful things I find in life. Like Bread Man."